Interview with Wayfarer

23 Jan 2022 - Thorsten

Wayfarer is one of those bands who steadily release great records every two years and more important than that – their records all have a unifying theme: their love for history, the American West, the 19th century, the westward expansion and possibly anything historical from which we can learn something. Thus more than enough for us to get some really interesting things for all of you out there.

Whenever we stick our heads together and think of which band would make for an interesting interview we search for more than musical brilliance; there should be something that would make for an interesting focus, a bigger topic that can looked at from many different points of view. Another band that really strikes that corner is Wayfarer from Denver as their black metal is decidedly different in sound from many other black metal bands, however their love for history and especially for the 19th century, the time of the frontier spirit and the westward movement. Let’s see what guitarist Shane McCarthy has to say!

“WAYFARER is Black Metal of the American West.” - that’s what it says on your Bandcamp. I guess you wanted to have this ambiguity, right?

Yeah absolutely. Ultimately the music should always speak for itself, but I think if you are to describe it it should speak to something that it reflects, opening someone checking it out to wonder what shape that kind of interpretation could take.

Do you associate your band with any local scene soundwise or in any other way?

Most so with the kind of cult legend history of the “Denver Sound” bands - we draw a lot of influence to our approach from those bands that have carved out something so unique where we are from. Sixteen Horsepower, the Jay Munly/Slim Cessna Circles, Wovenhand, Tarantella etc. We have had some crossover playing alongside the Cessna crew and some of these folks which is something we always enjoy.

Beyond that, there is a great metal scene here, and it quite interconnected. So while I think musically we are quite different from most of the other metal bands here, it is a great scene to be a part of.

Would you feel offended if I said that Wayfarer are a great example of the Denver scene in some ways? I mean many of those bands play an amalgam of death and black metal?

I wouldn’t take offense to it at all. It’s hard for me to see much connection between our music and the contemporaries here from a stylistic standpoint, but there is a lot of crossover of people in all of the bands here, and great musicianship. So that’s still something I wouldn’t shy away from.

When listening to your band it becomes obvious that all of you are excellent musicians for those changes in mood and pace are hard to control. How hard is it to play these songs live?

For this band I think it would be harder to do it any other way, we always kind of ride the feel of where the song is going in terms of mood, especially in relation to whatever “story” the song aims to tell. We have incorporated some more elements vocally and instrumentally that have brought new things for us to learn how to incorporate into the live set, but beyond that I think we typically are able to keep that same feel live, going with the song as it comes. We pride ourselves on the live show being one of strong energy and I think it comes from that approach.


How hard is your songwriting process? Is there one of you who comes up with the ideas and the others then embellish them or how should we envision your writing process?

Similarly to the live question I don’t think it’s something that is looked at as hard or easy, it just is the way we work. We have all played together for a long time, and this band has come to a pretty good rhythm in terms of writing together. We typically start with the bigger picture in mind and work down the details from there. For example I will typically bring the skeleton of a song with the idea of what it’s trying to portray or how it fits into the planned record. From there we will play through pieces of it and just kind of have everybody jam on it, and new pieces and directions always come from that. We usually go back and forth like that a few times until something feels like a finished song. There is usually a plan for the album as a whole and what types of songs are needed where, but there is always room for some new ideas to pop up in there as well.

Who came up with the idea of doing a concept black metal band like yours?

I think that aspect just naturally transpired over the years. We were young when the band started and it was a bit more of a hodgepodge and in the mold of other bands we were listening to etc. The influence of the western music crept in overtime and I think the lean became to make the band something that stayed true to where we from and epitomized the feel and aesthetic, as a Colorado thing, and an American Western thing. To take a similar approach that Scandinavian bands do with the Nordic backgrounds, but something true to us and where we are from. So that is what it became over time, and we embraced it.

Your band seems to be a sucker for history, right?

Ha yes actually, both Isaac and James have degrees in history, and it is of all of our interest. But I would say at least with the last album, we kind of circle more around the idea of the American West, and the way it is perceived and has been mythologized. So while all of that is contextualized by the actual history, it is more about the fascination with what has been built up to represent the American West as a legend to the world at large.

What is the motivation behind presenting songs about times long gone?

I think it’s about diving into and giving a lens on the feel of the place we come from, and the complicated allure of it’s lore and presentation to people.

Is there any special event in the history of Denver that you would like to talk about?

Not necessarily, as above we focused more on a broad scope of the whole thing as a perception.

Something special from the history of Colorado?

A similar answer to the above, although with World’s Blood the concepts deal more directly with the aspects of genocide of the nations and people that existed in the country, against whom so many atrocities were committed by the expansion of the United States. Colorado has many such instances in its history – be it the Sand Creek Massacre (Wikipedia - Sand Creek Massacre) or other such tragedies. So that worked its way into the feeling and storytelling of that album for sure.

What is so special about the American West that keeps you interested ever since your band’s inception?

Well again I think first and foremost, it’s being from here – this is the land we come from, and so its history and legend are ingrained in us a bit. Three of the four of us are born and raised in Colorado, and the fourth has lived here for 20 years after spending childhood in Arizona, the Southwestern US. So it’s a piece of where we are from, who we are.

Beyond that though, there is an appeal and a fascination with the way the American West has been mythologized by film, fiction, music etc. I personally was raised with family members who grew up watching John Wayne and John Ford films, and later grew a particular attachment to Italian Westerns and their gritty and morally ambiguous portrayals of life in the untamed West. The incredible music and artful depiction of such scenes has had a huge impact on me and that has led to just as much influence on Wayfarer as any band has had. That extends into even the “Neo Western” movements in the modern age, like Cormac McCarthy’s books, or films like The Revenant. All of this has such a deep appeal and feels important in relation to growing up here.

How important are the darker and maybe more obscure sides of the 19th century for you, for example the history of the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Company and its founder, John Harvey Kellogg, or the shady sides of Thomas Alva Edison?

The 19th Century is littered with darkness and fascinating aspects, as all periods in history really are. While I won’t speak to those specific examples as much, there are many things to pull from that time period that once you dive into the rabbit hole a bit the fascination, or sometimes repulsion, grows.

Could you imagine doing a record about the gunslingers of the American West alone?

Well, the “gunslinger” archetype is certainly a central piece of the portrayal in A Romance With Violence, sort of providing a central character to the album that is intended as a bit of a deconstructive western film in and of itself. But to focus on one aspect alone and ignore all else doesn’t really reflect the type of records we typically write. It is also very important to us never to fall prey to gimmicks or kitsch, and I think the more you reduce the “western” elements down the closer to something like that it could become.

How do you gather your information about the American West?

Once again, this is where we are from. We learn about the history in school. We watch the films and at different stages of life and gather our own image from those interpretations. The is plenty of further reading out there that I have sure explored a bit, but the West as an idea is all around us.

Are there any books or documentaries about the American West that you could suggest our readers to check out?

Endless ones. But to name a few, I think the seminal text of the westward expansion is Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (book’s Wikipedia entry) , which is almost a tribe by tribe account of the genocide of those people by the frontier expansion. Beyond that, Blood and Thunder (book’s Wikipedia entry) by Hampton Sides, and David Haward Bain’s railroad-centric Empire Express (book’s Wikipedia entry) as well.

In my opinion there are some direct links between your music and the American frontier spirit – am I wrong in that perception?

Glad to hear so - as yes that is what it all circles around so we would hope that feeling comes across in the music.

Your records seem to progress in time inching ever-closer to the present. Will you really ever arrive in the 21st century?

There does seem to be a bit of a trajectory there, moving forward the events in time. I think a next record could touch on things a little closer to the 20th century, but that’s about all I can project on. We take the ideas as they come and don’t plan much beyond that.

The American West has this kind of romanticized notion about it. Do you also see it in a very romantic way?

Well, that is practically the title of our album heh. But the point of that record is to deconstruct and question that romantic view. That’s what I would hope would come across in the lyrics and the representation of it in the artwork etc. While for my self personally I can say I have always been attracted to aesthetic of it, and find the stories fascinating, I think I know too much about the grime beneath it to actually look upon it with some kind of rose-tinted view. I would have no desire to live in such harsh and cruel times.

Some historians talk about the USA of the 19th century as the last time when the country was pushing boundaries for the benefit of all of mankind because of the many developments and inventions 19th century America came up with. Would you agree?

Hard to say that the US was working for the benefit of all mankind while actively committing genocide against several nations of people. I think the 19th century was like any other, like even this one - only to say that the US and mankind in general is always striving to benefit itself and humanity while simultaneously acting in ways that limit, divide and destroy it. It’s the yin and yang of the human experience, and while certain things can be pointed to from certain times, there is always both sides.

Would you agree with the old statement by Georges Santayana that those who do not learn from the past are damned to repeat it?

Oh absolutely. I think you can point to a lot of things happening in today’s world that speak directly to that, whether it be the pandemic, politcial uprisings, etc – history always repeats itself, though people tend to think that they are always in the most enlightened era.

How do you perceive the USA in the year 2022?

That is an awfully big question haha. I think it’s too easy to go to an extreme, either to be a blind patriot and claim the US is thriving in the best way it can, or to call doomsday and say everything is worse than it has ever been. It’s been a tumultuous time for the world in general, that is no revelation. So I have plenty of concerns, locally in the US and globally. But at the same time we do still manage to live in a time of comfort, relative freedom and prosperity. So I think it is important to note these things, while hoping for and striving for positive changes in the endless issues that surround life in 2022.

How important are politics to you as persons? To you as a band? Are there limits to your political openness?

I personally do like to be aware and involved, and I know what is important to me. I think my band on the large or largely similar in those thoughts, being a group of progressive individuals. But at the same time, while we will always stand by what we believe in when it comes down to it, we do try to keep that largely separate from the band. I think anyone who reads deeply into the lyrics and concepts of the band will find those beliefs reflected even in the vaguery of the storytelling - but we are ultimately not claiming to be an outwardly political band. There is too much division and heated discourse around these subjects in day to day life, and ultimately we aim to create music to be felt and enjoyed, not to write any grand manifestos. SO while we have beliefs we certainly hold true to ourselves, and they sometimes come through in the band, that is not our aim with making this music.

Denver is said to be a very liberal city, just as Colorado is said to be a pretty liberal state – is that true from your perspective?

Yes I would say so, about Denver and the front range anyway. Colorado is like many other places in the US, where the further you go from the population centers, in the rural areas it will be found to be more conservative etc. But Denver and the front range are typically a hub of largely progressive, and somewhat forward thinking people, although there is plenty of division within those labels as well. While Denver and the state have plenty of issues that could stand to be addressed, it is certainly more open minded than some places and for that I guess we can be glad to be here.

Have you seen a change in the state and its citizens?

Absolutely, just in that its been a “fast growing city” for the better part of the last decade. So that has seen a lot of change as more people transplant themselves here from elsewhere in the US and the world. That brings a lot of change, with rent prices and cost of living increasing, old businesses going away and new ones coming in for better or worse, and changes in housing and demographics etc. It has changed a lot, and not always in good ways but this is just the nature of the world.

What can we expect from the next Wayfarer record?

It would be too early to give any specifics on that, as we have still been focused on the cycle of A Romance …, with touring on the album set to finally begin soon. But there have been some ideas floating around. I think it will be a refinement and advancement of the sound we have built, but it will maybe explore some new things as well. But really we will have to see where it takes us when we begin to focus on it on the whole.

Did you guys make good use of the lockdown periods?

I would say so, yes. A Romance… was initially pushed back from its first scheduled recording time, which allowed us a great deal more time to delve in and really flesh the album out. And then we recorded it amidst the pandemic, and I think the record benefitted from that extra time. Since then we have been able to put in some real time on other projects as well, and plan for the future.

The covers for your records have shown a progression from less black elements to more colorful ones while at the same time going from grey to orange to red – incident or intention?

Can’t say the progression was thought out ahead of time - but maybe there is something to that. We approach each aesthetic individually in what we want to portray with the album, and maybe that has naturally progressed that way over time.

When listening to your last two records I have the feeling that A Romance … is a bit faster than World’s Blood - does that have to do with the time period you are dealing with?

That may have something to do with it – for us I know World’s Blood was more pensive and dreamlike, kind of hallucinatory at times. A Romance… was more intended to be as a big bloody Western film in itself, so maybe that caused the change in pace. Also i>World’s Blood</i> was a much more free form writing and recording experience, whereas A Romance… was loaded with a bit more intent so I could see how that would contribute to a pacing change as well.

When looking at your covers it also becomes obvious that symbols of movement seem to have become important for you. First the horse, then the locomotive – do you think that this change in the style and speed of movement was one of the most significant in human history?

I would agree with that, yes. Human’s ability to navigate and transport has always been one of the chief targets of “progress” I think. For those two albums, it makes sense kind of having those avatars. World’s Blood circled around the ghosts of the lost people who fell victim to the unforgiving machine of Westward expansion. The Steam Engine on A Romance… is kind of a representative of that expansion, death riding the Iron Horse out west.

Your last record was called Vaudevillean Black Metal by many critics – is there something true about that for you?

For the last record I would say that applies yes. It is presented as a show depicting all of these tales and figures of the west. There are many allusions to performance, masks and Vaudeville as evidenced by the title of the final track in particular. So that would apply to that record certainly.

How far do you think you can push your music?

That depends on what exactly you mean by push it, but for us it is important that we stay true to ourselves and always be pushing the music forward in terms of being fulfilling as the ones making it. In terms of how the band grows, we are ready to take our music across the world and perform for anyone interested in seeing it. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but I do think we’ve carved out something of our own and there are people out there who may appreciate it. So we will take it as far as we can in that regard.

How important is the drumming for you? Because it seems as if every record has some kind of significant drum sounds (one the last one there were some parts played on the rims alone)?

Of course it is important, it’s a central piece of the band. Everyone is here to pull their weight and contribute significantly to the music at large. I think the drum parts can stand out, because our drummer is very good. He is not just a technical player, he is a musician, who contributes musical elements all over the place that help add to the music. I think he is good at finding ways to do that so that it makes sense with the stories being told. That is what we all strive to do in the band, and the percussion aspects are no different.

Is the horseback-rider now some kind of informal band mascot, like your very own “Eddie”?

Heh. Hadn’t really thought it out that far. We will see what imagery is called for in the future, could make a return. But Eddie rules.

Now on to our infamous quickfire questions, please choose one of the alternatives
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer or Lincoln? Never seen either.

A History Of Violence or The Fly? The Fly. Big Cronenberg guy.

Mile High Stadium or Coors Field? Mile High.

Hell on Wheels or Back to the Future III Never seen Hell on Wheels. Can’t exactly give a ringing endorsement of Back from the Future III as its been since childhood for me.

Beer or wine? Both. But if only one, it’s beer.

Maryland Deathfest or Roadburn Festival? Hmm. Always a big chunk of bands on MDF that I love to see, but overall I have a lot of admiration for the curation of Roadburn, and how broad but consistent the scope is. Especially having interest outside of metal as well. So I would ultimately choose that – but MDF lineups are always stacked.

Touring or writing/recording music? Writing and bringing the music to life is the most satisfying part for me, but you have to have both. They both hit different things. The road brings the personal aspect with all of the people you meet, and lets you live the record a bit. And then after enough of that the desire usually comes to do something new.

Skiing or Snowboarding? Don’t really do either to be honest

Summer time vacations – the mountains or the seaside? For vacations, it’s the sea. We are as landlocked as it gets, so seeing the ocean is a real treat. But in terms of what I love the most, and where I prefer to live, it’s mountains every time. We are spoiled here with that.

Thank you for taking the time and answering these questions. We wish you nothing but the best for 2022, for you personally as well as for Wayfarer! Keep on riding into the sunset on a steel horse you ride!

Thank you!